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“It was intolerable seeing people loaded off a tram, with their belongings and children under their arms”

Translated Monday 5 September 2011, by Jayne McKenzie and reviewed by Henry Crapo

On Wednesday morning, around one hundred Roma were evicted from a camp in Saint-Denis and escorted to the train station in Noisy-le-Sec in a specially chartered tram. This requisitioning of public transport has prompted strong reactions from unions and politicians. Gilles Garnier, deputy mayor of Noisy-le-Sec, member of the Communist Party, and Seine-Saint-Denis councillor witnessed the scene.

Can you tell us what you saw yesterday morning?

Gilles Garnier: At around 11am, in front of the Noisy-le-Sec train station, I saw a large gathering of police forces: six riot squad vans, five light vehicles and local police. I approached them and they told me they were “waiting for the Roma”. Surprised by this response, I waited and saw a tram arrive, marked “no passengers” at the front and back. Somewhere between 60 and 80 Roma were unloaded, families with children, some very young, all with bundles under their arms. I then learnt that a camp in Saint-Denis had been evacuated that same day. They were taken into the station, surrounded by police. There was nothing I could do other than protest, which was useless. A soon as I got to my office, I sent a letter to the chief of police, asking why the police had requisitioned a tram; to the mayor of Noisy-le-Sec, asking why the local police participated in this operation, and to Pierre Mongin, secretary-general of the Parisian public transport operator RATP, questioning him about the requisitioning.

What is your reaction to the requisitioning?

Gilles Garnier: as an elected representative, I have fought for years against the national policy towards the Roma, for reasons of humanity and sanitation. For four years I was vice president of the council in charge of the care of mothers and children, and I can tell you that the Roma are going through an upsurge of tuberculosis, premature births, etc. This population’s heath and social wellbeing should be monitored. Instead they are relocated, and thus placed in even more jeopardy.

There are several integration villages and it’s wonderful that some cities have fought to create them, but what is needed is a different nationwide approach to accommodate the Roma in decent conditions. The people I saw coming out of the tram were not the young ones Mr Guéant talks about who haunt the corridors of the metro playing pickpockets, they were families with young children and their belongings in bundles. I do not see the need to have as many police as there were Roma, especially considering the shortage of police in our area.

“The scene was shocking, and brought back appalling images”

You write that the scene brought back memories from school and the cinema…

Gilles Garnier: For the first time since 1961, public transport facilities have been requisitioned, without respect for the law, for use by police authorities. It’s shocking. The company’s reputation is tarnished. In several stations people saw a tram go past carrying only Roma and police … this was a shocking scene, it evoked appalling images. It is simply an illustration of the nationwide policy against these people who are treated as scapegoats, just as in other times we chose other scapegoats. It has taken France a long time to admit to the collaboration during World War Two. We have found it hard to admit that the Vichy government asked the Parisian and National transport operators to provide men and materials in order to participate in an operation whose outcome we know, with six million dead in concentration and extermination camps. So yes, to see people loaded off this type of transport, with their children and their meagre belongings under their arms, is intolerable. They were demoralized, perhaps even resigned to their fate of again having to find a new landing place. It was a terrible image illustrating the inhumanity of the national policy towards the Roma.

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